Oliver Wahlstrom was on Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s wing during the Islanders’ practice on Saturday at Northwell Heath Ice Center in East Meadow, the spot where fellow rookie Kieffer Bellows has played the first four games.
It certainly raises the possibility that Wahlstrom, the 11th overall pick in 2018, could be elevated from the taxi squad to make his season’s debut on Sunday night against the Devils at Prudential Center, a rematch of the Islanders’ 4-1 win on Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum. It’s the start of a season-high, five-game road trip.
But coach Barry Trotz dropped no hints when asked whether he was curious how Wahlstrom would fare in the lineup.
"Well, I’m curious to see DC [Michael Dal Colle] in the lineup. I’m curious to see Wahlly in the lineup. I’m curious to see [Austin] Czarnik in the lineup. [Dmytro] Timashov," said Trotz, naming four forwards who have yet to play. "I could give you a whole list of guys. I have curiosity for them all, not one over the other right now."
Wahlstrom’s shooting and skating ability, his size and his draft status certainly make him an interesting candidate as Trotz looks to solidify Pageau’s third line.
Bellows and burly Ross Johnston have been Pageau’s linemates through the first four games but Trotz has been prone to also using Pageau, an adept faceoff-taker, in Matt Martin’s spot on Casey Cizikas’ line with Cal Clutterbuck.
Pageau has a goal and an assist while both Bellows, the 19th overall pick in 2016, and Johnston have yet to notch a point. Bellows had two goals and an assist in eight games for the Islanders last season while Wahlstrom went without a point in nine NHL games.
While Pageau is averaging 17:12 of ice time, Bellows is averaging 8:47 and has taken just two shots on goal in the four games. Johnston is last on the team with an average ice time of 8:30 and just one shot.
Still, Bellows and Wahlstrom’s veteran teammates have noted the improvement in practice and play from last season.
"I think it happens with most guys, especially talented guys like that," Clutterbuck said. "They come in, there’s a whole different aspect to the game they need to learn. There’s a lot of things about the game at the NHL level, a lot of little things that need to be done in order for you to be effective consistently. I think they’re following the same trend as a lot of guys do. Once these guys get a good hang of that and get comfortable with that, they usually start to break out and do well. So, both those guys are progressing very well."
Notes & quotes: Josh Bailey said his one-day stint on the NHL’s COVID-protocol list stemmed from his son’s false positive result. "My youngest son’s teacher tested positive," Bailey said. "About three or four days later, at night he had a bit of a cough going and sounded a little sick. He came back positive. At that point, we’re just figuring out the right steps and where do we go from here. And then, the next few days, he had negative tests. For a couple of days, it was touch and go but it all worked out…" Andrew Ladd and Tom Kuhnhackl were added to the training camp roster for the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. Ladd’s contract is considered buried, giving the Islanders $1.075 million of salary cap relief. Ladd still counts $4.43 million toward the NHL cap…Johnny Boychuk, on long-term injured reserve and unable to continue his career because of an eye injury, was on the ice on Saturday as he continues to help the coaching staff during practice. "It would have been tough to go cold turkey and not see him," Bailey said. "He’s been such a big part of our dressing room."